Unlike other forms of harassment, parental bullying does not get a lot of exposure in popular literature. However, it is a very real issue. Parents who are especially overbearing or who use sarcasm and derision in an attempt to control their children’s behavior can qualify as bullies.

When parental control goes too far

Parents who believe that their son or daughter is heading in the wrong direction may resort to pushy behavior in an attempt to force the child to make the “correct” decisions. This can backfire, and if it becomes repetitive and abusive, it can be called bullying. For example, a parent who wants his son to excel at football may have complete disregard for the son’s actual interests and capabilities. Instead of supporting the son’s hobbies and choices, the bullying parent makes derogatory comments about them and insists that football be a major part of the son’s life.

Overbearing parents may also use bullying tactics to try to control their children’s online activities, or control outside activities through the online medium. An example of parental cyberbullying made the news this year when a number of parents whose children played hockey repeatedly posted derogatory statements directed at other players.

Consequences of parental bullying

Although the parents themselves are convinced that they are doing what is best for their child, they are actually damaging their relationship with their child. Excessive parental pressure strains family relationships and causes children to seek support elsewhere. Bullied children may turn to drugs or other harmful activities in order to find relief from their household woes.

Parental bullying can also have a severe negative impact on a child’s self-esteem. When children turn to their parents for support and find only sarcastic insults, their feelings of inadequacy deepen significantly. Depression can result, and when the parents are the culprits, the bullying victims may have no one at all to seek help from. The parents may further abuse the child in response to the depression, such as calling the child names and deriding the child for “weak” behavior. This heightens the risk that the child may commit suicide.

Confronting parental bullying

One of the major challenges in dealing with parental bullying is that there is no overarching disciplinary structure through which to approach the perpetrators. Unlike children on a playground, or even people in a work environment, members of a nuclear family are fairly insulated from outside intervention. Parental bullying victims may, however, be able to turn to other family members for support, including grandparents.